Driver Time Limit Changes May Impact Truck Accidents

Will New Federal Driver Time Rules Increase Trucking Accident Rates?

It’s well known that fatigue and inattention are significant factors in many trucking accidents, and regulations have long been in place — at the federal level since the 1930s — to limit the amount of time that truck drivers can work at one stretch. In late September 2020, these “Hours of Service” regulations received an update, and there are concerns that the relaxed rules may increase the rate of truck accidents.

The primary trucking regulator in the United States — the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — has said that these updates are intended to give truck drivers and trucking companies greater scheduling flexibility that will hopefully not harm safety.

Safety researchers have questioned these regulatory changes, however, concerned that they may actually be counter-productive from the standpoint of protecting both average motorists and the truck drivers who share our highways. Time and further study will be needed to evaluate the impact of these rule changes and whether or not they increase the frequency of major trucking accidents.

What are the Changes?

The changes impact three categories of truck driver time: (1) driving time when they are actually behind the wheel, (2) “on-duty” time when they are working but not driving, and (3) “off-duty” time when they are not working and are either outside the vehicle or in the vehicle’s sleeping berth.

These changes include:

  • Break Requirements — The new rules mandate a break of thirty minutes or more after accumulating eight total hours of driving time. This is a change from the prior rule, which required a break after eight hours of on-duty time — which could include both time behind the wheel and other work-related activities. Further, the prior rules required that break time be spent either entirely off duty or in the sleeper area of the truck, while the new rules allow drivers to remain on-duty, just not behind the wheel.
  • Sleeping Berth Requirements — Under the changed rules, drivers are allowed to meet their minimum ten hours of off-duty time out of every day by being inside the truck sleeping berth for at least seven hours out of the ten-hour period with the remaining off-duty time spent either inside or outside the sleeper, so long as a total of ten hours is reached. Also, under the changed regulations, the short breaks do not count against the maximum driving period of fourteen hours.
  • Before the changes, however, drivers were required to spend eight hours of time straight in the sleeper, along with another two hours off-duty to reach the ten-hour rest time, and the short breaks did count against the fourteen-hour maximum driving time. These changed regulations can be found on the FMCSA website.

Are There Exceptions to These Rules?

  • Adverse Conditions — Truck drivers will sometimes run into delays and driving difficulties due to bad weather that can slow their driving and keep them from completing their driving shift within the allowed time. The regulatory changes will now allow drivers up to an additional two hours of driving time during bad weather conditions to handle these situations.
  • Short Haul Drivers — For drivers operating on shorter routes, the updated rules will now increase the definition of “short-haul” distances to 150 miles from point to point “as the crow flies” from the prior 100-mile distance. The changed rules will also allow drivers on these routes to be on-duty for up to fourteen hours rather than the prior twelve hours.

What are the Consequences of these Changes?

It has long been recognized that one of the most significant causes of trucking accidents is driver fatigue. Long hours behind the wheel will gradually catch up with any driver — even experienced professionals — as fatigue reduces attentiveness and slows reaction time in emergencies.

For those experienced personal injury attorneys who handle the complexities of major trucking accident cases, it is equally well-recognized that “time is money” for truck drivers and their employers and that driver compliance with their “Hours of Service” regulatory requirements is always an important factor to be investigated. Typically, both employee-drivers and independent contractor drivers must keep careful logs of their driving time, non-driving work time, and off-duty hours.

These recent changes in federal rules to truck driver duty times are significant. Only time will tell how much impact these changes may have upon the frequency of major trucking accidents nationwide.

Watch YouTube Video: Hours of Service Rules United States. The video below discusses the basic rules for truck drivers in the United Stastes.

Sacramento Truck Accident Lawyer

Hello – I’m Ed Smith, a truck accident lawyer in Sacramento. If you or a family member has been injured due to a truck accident or other traffic collision, please call us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 to talk with one of our injury lawyers. You can also reach us by using our online contact form.

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